Almonds 101: Pollination Of California's Almonds Largest Annual Management Pollination Event In The World
The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. This business has been heavily impacted by colony collapse disorder, causing nationwide shortages of honey bees and increasing the price of insect pollination.
To alleviate almond growers from the rising cost of insect pollination, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed a new line of self-pollinating almond trees. Self-pollinating almond trees, such as the Tuono almond tree, have been around for a while, but their harvest is not as desirable as the insect-pollinated California Nonpareil almond tree.
The Nonpareil tree produces large, smooth almonds and offer 60–65% edible kernel per nut. The Tuono, on the other hand, has thicker, hairier shells and offers only 32% of edible kernel per nut. However, there are advantages to having a thick shell. The Tuono’s shell protects the nut from threatening pests such as the navel orangeworm.
ARS researchers have managed to cross breed the pest-resistant Tuono tree with California’s attractive Nonpareil tree, resulting in hybridized varieties of almond trees that are self-pollinated and maintain a high quality of nut. The new, self-pollinating almond tree hybrids possess quality skin color, flavor, and oil content, and reduce almond growers’ dependency on insect pollination.